Category: Financial Institutions

Private Equity Achieves Extraordinary Numbers in Health and Education

The N.Y. Times has recently profiled a chain of for-profit hospitals known as HCA. The two articles are well worth reading, particularly for insights into the manipulation of medical billing and coding:

At HCA in 2006, slightly more than a quarter of the payments it received from Medicare were for patients classified in the two highest-paying categories, far behind the 58 percent reported at other hospitals, according to an analysis of Medicare payments by The Times, using data provided by the American Hospital Directory. During that time, HCA was still operating under a corporate integrity agreement resulting from its Medicare fraud settlement, and an independent reviewer was scrutinizing its billing.

By late 2008, however, just as the agreement with federal regulators was ending, HCA introduced a new coding system for its emergency rooms. HCA said the system, based on a method developed by the American College of Emergency Physicians, was less complicated and better captured the time and resources used by the hospital. Nearly overnight, HCA’s patients appeared to be much, much sicker. By 2010, HCA had surpassed other hospitals, with 76 percent of its payments coming from the two most expensive classifications, versus 74 percent for other hospitals.

Perhaps some Freakonomist will conclude that independent reviewers are vital to improving public health. But the better explanatory variable appears to be the role of private equity firms in reshaping HCA after buying it in 2006. They are revolutionizing the service sector. Just consider the miraculous work of a private equity group in getting “50 full-time faculty members to teach 90,000 online students” at a university it controls. Truly the business model of the future.

Lies and Libor

It’s fashionable for some finance experts to dismiss reporters like Matt Taibbi as hyperbolic. How dare he compare a muni bond rigging scandal to Mafia tactics? But the more one digs into high finance’s behavior, the clearer a pattern of criminality and recklessness emerges. Taibbi was on a cordial and enlightening panel with Gillian Tett back in 2009, and if any finance reporter’s work is considered impeccable by the establishment, it is hers. Consider her perspective on the latest outrage regarding the setting of Libor:

Five long years ago, I first started trying to expose the darker underbelly of the Libor market. . . .At the time, this sparked furious criticism from the British Bankers’ Association, as well as big banks such as Barclays; the word “scaremongering” was used. But now we know that, amid the blustering from the BBA, the reality was worse than we thought. As emails released by the UK Financial Services Authority show, some Barclays traders were engaged in a constant and pervasive attempt to rig the Libor market from 2006 on, with the encouragement of more senior managers. And the British bank may not have been alone.

Read More


Stanford Law Review, 64.5 (2012)

Stanford Law Review

Volume 64 • Issue 5 • May 2012

The City and the Private Right of Action
Paul A. Diller
64 Stan. L. Rev. 1109

Securities Class Actions Against Foreign Issuers
Merritt B. Fox
64 Stan. L. Rev. 1173

How Much Should Judges Be Paid?
An Empirical Study on the Effect of Judicial Pay on the State Bench

James M. Anderson & Eric Helland
64 Stan. L. Rev. 1277

How Congress Could Reduce Job Discrimination by Promoting Anonymous Hiring
David Hausman
64 Stan. L. Rev. 1343

British Paradoxes

I’ve recently heard Martin Wolf described as one of the world’s preeminent financial journalists (here and here). I was therefore puzzled to read his column characterizing banking as a “high productivity sector[].” In March, 2011, Wolf called the financial sector “locusts” in his Ralph Milliband Lecture. I doubt anyone who listened to the lecture would get the idea that Wolf wanted to praise the implicit governmental backing that is at the heart of the sector’s prosperity as a model of “productivity.” The paradoxes here are enough to make me turn to James Livingston’s discussion of productive capacity in the appendix of his recent book Against Thrift.

On another puzzling note from Britain: it appears that Nassim Taleb has become a key advisor to David Cameron, the Prime Minister. The Tories have seized on Taleb’s withering skepticism as an epistemological foundation for a politics of austerity (that is, since no one has any idea what to do, the safest thing is for government to do nothing but downsize itself). I think Taleb may be poised for a long career as a bipartisan advisor, since Labour could use theories of epistemic modesty to prove that no one knows if government intervention would fail.

The Tories aren’t going whole hog for Taleb, though: they appear singularly uninterested in his proposals to end bonuses at TBTF banks, or to break them up. I strongly suspect that the only parts of the Taleb program that will pass are those that help entrench existing elites—a selective adoption that only exacerbates the fragility he identifies as the critical problem of modern society.


Stanford Law Review, 64.4 (2012)

Stanford Law Review

Volume 64 • Issue 4 • April 2012

The Tragedy of the Carrots:
Economics and Politics in the Choice of Price Instruments

Brian Galle
64 Stan. L. Rev. 797

“They Saw a Protest”:
Cognitive Illiberalism and the Speech-Conduct Distinction

Dan M. Kahan, David A. Hoffman, Donald Braman, Danieli Evans & Jeffrey J. Rachlinski
64 Stan. L. Rev. 851

Constitutional Design in the Ancient World
Adriaan Lanni & Adrian Vermeule
64 Stan. L. Rev. 907

The Copyright-Innovation Tradeoff:
Property Rules, Liability Rules, and Intentional Infliction of Harm

Dotan Oliar
64 Stan. L. Rev. 951

Testing Three Commonsense Intuitions About Judicial Conduct Commissions
Jonathan Abel
64 Stan. L. Rev. 1021

Derivatives Clearinghouses and Systemic Risk:
A Bankruptcy and Dodd-Frank Analysis

Julia Lees Allen
64 Stan. L. Rev. 1079


Stanford Law Review, 64.3 (2012)

Stanford Law Review

Volume 64 • Issue 3 • March 2012

The Material Foundations of Corporate Culture: Goldman’s Lessons for Silicon Valley

Two resignation letters rocked Wall Street and Silicon Valley this week. Greg Smith elegized a once-great Goldman Sachs, now reduced to “ripping eyeballs out” of clients. (The industry sure has changed since the 90s, when the goal was to rip off the whole face of the client. I guess Dodd-Frank is working.)

On the West Coast, James Whittaker explains “Why I Left Google.” His complaints are more measured than Smith’s: “The old Google made a fortune on ads because they had good content. It was like TV used to be: make the best show and you get the most ad revenue from commercials. The new Google seems more focused on the commercials themselves.” Whittaker laments that the company has become obsessed, Ahab-like, with the social web’s whale, Facebook.

On one level, it’s not fair to compare the companies: the engineers at Google have contributed far more to society than finance’s “money-massagers.” Goldman represents the terminal phase of a liquidationist capitalism unmoored from social value. But its culture did not rot overnight. Rather, legal and material factors accelerated decay. Silicon Valley’s managers and regulators should take notice: the same process could happen there.
Read More

On the Servicing Settlement

Today, Jon Walker tweeted that “No one man has done more to protect the power of the financial elites than President Obama.” Is that a fair assessment? Here are some views expressed on the mortgage settlement today:

Adam Levitin, The Servicing Settlement: Banks 1, Public 0:

[The settlement] cover[s] robosigning and overbilling in foreclosures. Given the relatively narrow scope of this settlement, it’s not surprising that the dollars involved are quite small compared to the overall harms created by the housing bubble and aftermath.

The formal price tag for the settlement is $25 billion, although it is projected to accomplish up to $40 billion in relief. Only $5 billion of that is hard cash contributed by the banks. Let me repeat that. The five banks involved in the settlement, which have a combined market capitalization of over $500 billion, are putting in only $5 billion. That’s less than 1% of their net worth. And they are admitting no wrongdoing. To call that accountability is laughable. . . . $32 billion of the settlement is being financed on the dime of MBS investors such as pension funds, 401(k) plans, insurance companies, and the like—-parties that did not themselves engage in any of the wrong-doing covered by the settlement.

William K. Black, How Liberals are Getting Spun in the Mortgage Settlement Debate:
Read More

The Poor Get One Strike; Banks Get Thousands

Most readers of this blog are already familiar with draconian treatment of the poor by various law enforcers and state bureaucracies. Here’s yet another example:

[A] one-strike clause . . . allows the public housing authority to evict [the tenant] if any member of her household or any guest engages in certain kinds of criminal activity. . . . Stories abound about the one-strike policy being wielded in seemingly egregious ways to evict “innocent tenants,” such as a disabled elderly man in California whose caretaker was caught with crack. . . .The Chicago Reporter wrote in September that 86 percent of Chicago’s one-strike evictions last year did not arise from criminal activity by the person named on the lease.

“These policies, the effect of them on children, families, women, families of color, were not thought through. And I think now a national conversation is beginning to rethink that,” said Ariela Migdal, a senior staff attorney with the Women’s Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union. Migdal pointed to a June 2011 letter from HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan to public housing directors, encouraging the directors to use their “broad discretion” to create a flexible set of standards for who will be admitted to and allowed to stay in public housing.

Certainly the Obama administration has ample experience deploying “discretion” and “mercy” in other areas.  For example, consider Barry Ritholtz’s summary of a shocking Reuters report by Scott Paltrow on foreclosure fraud:
Read More

Pope Benedict’s Message on Peace, Justice, and Wealth Redistribution

Pope Benedict’s interpretations of Catholic Social Thought have been consistently inspiring. His recent message on the World Day of Justice and Peace focused on the material foundations of a just and well-ordered society.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God”, as Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5:9). Peace for all is the fruit of justice for all, and no one can shirk this essential task of promoting justice, according to one’s particular areas of competence and responsibility. . . .

Peace . . . is not merely a gift to be received: it is also a task to be undertaken. In order to be true peacemakers, we must educate ourselves in compassion, solidarity, working together, fraternity, in being active within the community and concerned to raise awareness about national and international issues and the importance of seeking adequate mechanisms for the redistribution of wealth, the promotion of growth, cooperation for development and conflict resolution.

This position confirms a long line of encyclicals urging the fair distribution of global resources. As Pope Benedict earlier stated in Caritas in Veritate, “Without internal forms of solidarity and mutual trust, the market cannot completely fulfil its proper economic function.”
Read More